Several years ago, my family and I took a month sabbatical from ministry for refreshment and relaxation. The purpose of the sabbatical was to step away from ministry and spend time in the word gaining a much-needed refreshment.
As a minister, you spend your time teaching and helping others and rarely do you get time to be taught and helped. The sabbatical was my time, and my family’s time, to step away from the “Preacher and his Family” and find rejuvenation.
During the sabbatical, my family and I traveled attended six congregations in four weeks. When we visited other congregations, I only told two of the preachers I would be showing up. I told them I wanted to be treated like everyone else and not to inform people I was the minister somewhere else.
I wanted to full visitor experience.
I wanted to know what it was like to walk in a congregation and be treated normally. I wanted to know what it was like to be a typical family and walk into a church building for the first time.
Preachers are usually treated a little different when we walk into a church building; especially where people know us. The tendency is to be sure to talk to the preacher, along with his family, and to be sure they receive a friendly welcome. It is almost as if ministers are on a different plain; typically, we think they are.
Gaining an average visitor experience has helped me as I see visitors around our congregation. Many visitors are not nervous when they arrive, just a little out of touch. They are not out of contact with church services; they are just not connected with your congregation services. They are there for the first time, and they are not sure what to expect.
Warning: Some of the words I write are not complimentary, but challenging. Take no offense to the words, but learn from my experience. I have not, nor will I name congregations or the area we visited. This is to be sure that they remain anonymous and everyone learns from the overall experience.
Let the words challenge you and make you uncomfortable. If they anger you, get up and do something about them. If you think they are right, get up and change the way your congregation is seen in your community.
I have summarized our experience into six different statements. Each statement is my thought based on my experience and also from hearing the words of others.
“Six Concerns I Have About Your Congregation”
1 – “When I visited, you asked me to full out a visitor card, talked about how much you appreciate visitors, but no one spoke to me.”
- Hearing words spoken from the pulpit need to be backed up with action from the leadership and members.
- Just because you talk about appreciating visitors does not mean you are following through with those actions.
- Showing visitors you appreciate them is more than just giving them a card. It is having a conversation with them about them.
- Ask your visitors about them? Most visitors are happy to ask about your congregation when you start the conversation asking them about them.
- Conversation Tip: It is a good idea not to make fun of the state, city or location where people are from at your first discussion. It leaves a wrong impression.
2 – “I saw no joy in your congregation. As the church sang ‘To Canaan’s Land’ no one was smiling and they sang like a funeral. I thought living for Jesus was a joy, not a bore.”
- Visitors notice the atmosphere of the congregation. Most visitors will compare your congregation with the congregation they attend. Their congregation becomes their standard they hold every other congregation too.
- Ask yourself this question, “Do you smile when you sing “Sing and Be Happy?”
- Most visitors notice the singing among every other aspect of worship. Maybe singing takes a priority because so many songs are sung during the worship? The singing service can set the tempo of a worship service.
- As Christians, we do remember the death of Christ in communion every Sunday as a solemn occasion, but too many congregations leave Him in the tomb and do not celebrate the resurrection.
3 – “I saw a Bible, but I never saw Bibles. I thought Christians were people who studied the book not talked about studying the book.”
- As mentioned previously, visitors are paying attention. They look around and see what is going on in worship, who is paying attention and what it means to everyone.
- Church buildings need to have open Bibles and, the preacher needs to give us scriptures to open too. It is a two-way street.
- There is a difference in talking about studying and studying. There is nothing wrong with exploring a workbook, but Bibles need to be opened along with the workbook.
4 – “Your services talked about being lights in a dark world, but I never heard of your congregation before today. You said your church has been around for 50+ years and I grew up here and never knew you.”
- Wow! A statement like that reflects on the outreach of the congregation; both passive outreach and active outreach.
- Passive outreach consists of areas like yellow page ads (yes, some people still use them), Facebook pages, websites, billboards, etc.. Passive outreach is placing information about the congregation in a way people can find it, stumble across it or search for it.
- Active outreach consists of areas like door-0knocking, inviting others, handing out correspondence courses, etc.
- For someone to grow up in an area and never hear of your congregation can mean a few things: (1) You are in a large city like Atlanta, etc. (2) You are a new congregation, or (3) there is no outreach.
5 – “I felt awkward because I had to sit on the second row because all of your members sat in the back and on the aisle seat. They seemed glued to their chairs.”
- I have heard others say that “God’s presence must be strongest in the back five rows of our church buildings” and I can believe it. Many of the last rows of a church building and full, leaving the front rows for visitors.
- Have you ever visited a church worship services and found nowhere to sit but the front row? So have I. In fact, I have attended other congregations where people have been unwilling to let me in their row. Seriously.
- There needs to be some open space for visitors to come in the assembly and find a place to sit instead of having to walk all the way down to the front.
- It is handy to have an area toward the back where visitors with small children can sit as opposed towards the front.
6 – “You saw that I had children and no one helped me find a Bible class for my children. There were no signs on the doors to help along the way.”
- Information. Information. Information. Visitors need information, but not an overload of information.
- Some congregations have a guide to show where classes are held, where the bathrooms are and other relevant information for visitors.
- It is always nice to have several ushers (men and women) help the visitors find their way.
- After service, be sure you assist the visitors in any way. Visitors might be looking for directions, a place to eat or other information that you can provide.
Engaging visitors, when they arrive at your congregation, is a significant show of your hospitality. However, be sure not to overdo it out of show. Everything must be done sincerely. Visitors can distinguish between genuine hospitality and dramatized hospitality.
The relationship you have with the visitors attending your Bible studies or worship services should be built on the grace and mercy of Christ. Not every visitors will have a religious background, nor will they understand the “church words.”
While worship is typically designed for Christians, we must understand that in our culture, many will visit the worship service before any Bible study. It is important that we welcome them as we would like greeted. Think the Golden Rule.
Visitors need to know they are appreciated and loved just as anyone should be in an assembly of Christians. For a visitors to show up at your building, opens the door for a wide range of possibilities – from Bible study to conversion even to a new friendship. Take advantage of the time you have with visitors.
What does your congregation to for visitors?
Better yet, what are you doing for the visitors?
Just some thoughts,